Ortega’s comments are meant to divert opposition to Nicaragua’s plan to build an inter-oceanic canal
In Guanacaste Thursday Presidenta Laura Chinchilla led a march protesting Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s bid to claim the Costa Rica province of Guanacaste.
Chinchilla was joined by legislators, Cabinet members and protesters in a “marcha por la patria” (march for the homeland) that began in the town of Nicoya in the northwest province of Guanacaste. The province, home to some of Costa Rica’s most-visited beaches and hotels, is the country’s least populated and second-largest region.
Tensions between the neighbours were heightened last week when Ortega said he may file a case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to “recover” Guanacaste, which he claimed was Nicaraguan territory. Guanacaste was annexed to form part of Costa Rica in 1824, about three years after Central America’s independence from Spain. The anniversary of the annexation is a Costa Rican holiday is celebrated on July 25.
“The children of this land, have said yes to Costa Rica for 189 years. How, you having yes to Costa Rica many times, can we now tell you no. That is why were are here today with you”, Presidenta Laura Chinchilla.
“We aren’t talking about a a tiny territory, we are talking about hundreds of kilometres,” Ortega said in an Aug. 13 speech. “This is something yet to be debated, and we should consider bringing a case to the International Court of Justice.”
Chinchilla, who is in the final year of her presidency, said Ortega’s threat ignored history and disrupted the “beautiful friendship” between Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans. The Spanish language daily, La Nacion said “thousands” of people took part in the march.
“President Ortega, we will not let your irresponsibility separate our countries,” Chinchilla said in a speech after the march. “We will not fall for your provocations, but we will also not be passive toward them.”
Costa Rica and Nicaragua have a history of border and territorial disputes. The ICJ ruled in 2011 that Nicaraguan soldiers had to evacuate a swath of land south of the San Juan River, which serves as the countries’ international border.
Nicaragua signed a treaty ceding Guanacaste to Costa Rica in 1858 shortly after the country had been under the temporary military rule of U.S. adventurer William Walker.
“It wasn’t a treaty signed voluntarily and Costa Rica knows that,” said Carlos Arguello, Nicaragua’s representative to the ICJ, in a statement on the presidential website. “What is going to be done or can be done about it is up to the president.”
Ortega’s latest comments are meant to divert attention from Nicaragua’s $40 billion plan to build an inter-oceanic canal, according to Constantino Urcuyo, a political analyst at Ciapa, a policy research institute in San Jose, Costa Rica. Legislation granting a concession to build the canal was passed earlier this year by the Nicaraguan Congress, generating protests from opposition and environmental groups.
“Ortega has had a lot of opposition to the canal project and to calm it he looked for an easy target,” Urcuyo said in a phone interview from San Jose. “Every time Ortega needs to earn national support, he resorts to his traditional enemy.”
Costa Rica’s consulate in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, has been closed since Aug. 18, when protesters blocked its entrance, Ambassador Javier Sancho said in a phone interview.
“Some anti-Costa Rican sentiment has increased in recent days,” Sancho said. “Hopefully things will get back to normal shortly to the benefit of both the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan people.”